By Jon Wertheim
January 27, 2010

What will it take to get Nadal back into game shape ... for the long run? Take time off? Retire then unretire? Knee surgery? Change his game? Please tell that a six-time Grand Slam champion isn't done at 23.--Yves, Montreal

• This might be the biggest question hanging over tennis right now. I've tried not to be too doom and gloom on this issue in the past. "Nadal's only 23." "Injuries happen." "He'll schedule smarter in 2010." But count me in the "officially concerned" camp. Nadal has been a shard of his former self for the past eight months or so. His knees were so bad that he can't defend his Wimbledon title. After the laughably short off-season, Nadal looks as though he's healthier and repairing his confidence. Then in the first major of 2010, he reinjures his knee. So much so that he can't finish the match. Not good. A) You wonder if Nadal's body will ever be the same, and B) You wonder if he'll ever have total confidence in his movement, knowing one false step and he might be back on the IR.

The tennis salon has already started trying to figure out what Nadal can do to change. But, realistically, what's the solution? As long as tennis is played on hard courts with light rackets and hi-tech strings, the knees are vulnerable. Nadal's ground-and-pound game is what it is: He's not going turn into an ace machine or a graceful stylist. His body is it what it is: He's not going to morph into Nikolay Davydenko's lithe frame anytime soon. The schedule is what it is: Sure, Nadal could pare down on the Rotterdams, but there will always be 13 events he'll have to play. I don't know enough about Nadal's specific condition to know if microfracture surgery is the answer. But while the sport looks for sponsors and seeks to expand its TV footprint and noodles with Davis Cup alterations, maybe we ought to spend more time wondering how an exceptional player, unsurpassing sportsman, and just a general credit to tennis is so chronically injured at age 23.

I'm constantly surprised at how many WTA players are coached by relatives -- mainly husbands (Na, Zheng, Schnyder) and parents (Williams, Dementieva, Bartoli, Sharapova). And, as one commentator said, how do you fire your husband? What would your Top 5 Players Needing a Break from Their [insert relative here] list look like?--Jeffrey Magnus, San Diego

You know, I've become less judgmental on this. I think when a player is in that crucial make-or-break phase, it's a bad idea for a family member to be the aide-de-camp. You need a relationship that's uncomplicated as possible. You need a savvy and experienced coach (See, for instance, Cilic's coach Bob Brett) who knows the sport, knows the physiology, knows the psychology, and knows the nuances in a way that a parent or spouse likely doesn't.

But once players are established, maybe the comfort and familiarity is worth the tradeoff in technical expertise. So many coaching relationships are fraught with everything from sexual tension to financial stresses (remember: the player is really the boss). Maybe what, say, Elena Dementieva doesn't get in tennis know-how from her omnipresent mother, she gets in the form of maternal love and support. What's more, note the track record. Yes, there is a rich history of younger players who have been undone by family coaching. But look at the top: Federer (no real coach), Nadal (uncle), Williams sisters (parents), and Henin (non-blood relative, but surrogate dad) -- that's a lot of majors right there.

How about Australia's own Ken Rosewall winning his first tournament in 1951 and his last in 1977? That's technically only three decades, but I'll take that 26-year duration over Santoro's gimmicky "four-decade" accomplishment.--Cyrus, Denton, Texas

• Gimmicky is probably too harsh. But it does mention that for all his longevity, Santoro has a losing record in Grand Slam singles matches.

Another new record of Federer's: He is now the only player (men's) to have won at least 50 singles matches at 3 different slams. Australian, Wimbledon and U.S. Open. He has 39 wins at the French. Do you think he gets to 50 wins there as well?--Kiran, Louisville

• Yes. Three years of reaching the quarterfinals -- pretty modest for a guy who's reached the final four years running -- and he's there.

Jon, I just saw the draw for the wheelchair division. Where is Esther Vergeer?--John, Seattle

• Just taking a break, we're told. No injury, no retirement. Just recharging her battery. One of the great stories in tennis.

Whoa. I just read in your mailbag that Serena and Henin have NEVER played in a grand slam final against each other?!?! I was wondering how it is possible that the two best players of their generation (I'm giving Venus third place here) have never squared off in tennis's biggest matches, and decided that it is mainly because Serena's ranking for the past 5 or 6 years never accurately reflected her playing, and Henin's best surface is Serena's weakest ... but really, how can we not root for it to finally happen?--Steven Gerard, Brooklyn, N.Y.

• I think this is significant. Tennis thrives on rivalries. It's problematic when, arguably, the two biggest rivals of the best six or eight years have never met with the big prize on the line.

Wow. Kim Clijsters only managed one lousy game from Petrova? Disregarding losses before they got to the top, what are the worst drubbing received by a current or former world number one?--Arnold Altoveros, Philippines

• Indian Wells, 2005. Davenport d. Sharapova 6-0, 6-0.

• Great idea from the USTA. Try and get in the U.S. Open qualies draw.

• Fetinia of New York City: To someone who asked where John McEnroe is these days: I saw him yesterday, Jan. 25th, attending N.Y. Rangers-Pittsburgh Penguins game in Madison Square Gardens. He was shown on display smiling and cheering for home team, followed by surly picture of him from the "good ol' days."

Kathye Tanner of Viera, Fla., notes: Jon, is this the first time that the defending men's singles champs have retired two years in a row?

Dr. Ng of Vancouver asks: Do you think there is some kind of Slam karma involving anyone who beats Federer at his majors in a final or semi? Djokovic at Australian '08 semi, Wimbledon '08; Nadal at Australian '09; Del Potro at U.S. '09 ..."

Mikero of Missoula, Mont.: Who has access to the data for analysis for this?

Ken of San Mateo, Calif.: Serena defeated four former GS champs for 1999 USO title (C. Martinez, Seles, Davenport and Hingis)

Sandra of Limerick, Ireland, has Long Lost Siblings: Andy Roddick and Australian soap star Luke Jacobz.

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